Shiver, page 46part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
I’d been avoiding looking at him, but I did, finally, where he lay on the bed, curled like a half-done butterfly. The ends of his fingertips were a disconcerting shade of blue. His face was shiny with sweat, his eyes closed. My throat felt too full.
“I looked it up online,” Isabel told me. She held up her phone, as if that explained everything. “His headache is because the lining of his brain is inflamed. The fingers and toes are blue because his brain isn’t telling his body to send blood there anymore. I took his temperature. It was one hundred and five. ”
Olivia said, “I have to throw up. ”
She left me in the room with Isabel and Jack.
I didn’t know what to say. If Sam had been here, he would’ve known the right thing to say. “I’m sorry. ”
Isabel shrugged, eyes dull. “It worked the way it was supposed to. The first day, he almost changed into a wolf when the temperature dropped overnight. That was the last time, even when the power went down last night. I thought it was working. He hasn’t changed since his fever got going. ” She made a little gesture toward the bed. “Did you make an excuse for me at school?”
I gestured for her to follow me. She stood up from her chair as if it was difficult for her and trailed me into the hall.
I pulled the bedroom door almost shut so that Jack, if he was listening, wouldn’t overhear. In a low voice, I said, “We have to take him to the hospital, Isabel. ”
Isabel laughed—a weird, ugly sound. “And tell them what? He’s supposed to be dead. You think I haven’t been thinking about this? Even if we give a fake name, his face has been all over the news for two months. ”
“Then we just take our chances, right? We’ll come up with some story. I mean, we have to at least try, right?”
She looked up at me with her red-rimmed eyes for a long moment. When she finally spoke, her voice was hollow. “Do you think I want him to die? Don’t you think I want to save him? It’s too late, Grace! It’s hard for people to survive this kind of meningitis even if they’ve gotten treatment from the very beginning. Right now, for him, after three days? I don’t even have painkillers to give him, much less anything that might do something for this. I thought the wolf part might save him, like it saved you. But he doesn’t have a chance. Not a chance. ”
I took the coffee cup out of her hands. “We can’t just watch him die. We’ll take him to a hospital that won’t know him right away. We’ll drive to Duluth if we have to. They won’t recognize him there, at least not right away, and by then, we’ll have thought of something to tell them. Go clean up your face and get whatever of his stuff you want to bring. Come on, Isabel. Move. ”
Isabel still didn’t answer, but she headed for the stairs. After she’d gone, I went into the downstairs bathroom and opened up the cupboard, thinking there might be something useful in there. A houseful of people tended to accumulate a lot of meds. There was some acetaminophen and some prescription pain pills from three years previously. I took all of it and went back to Jack’s room.
Kneeling by his head, I said, “Jack, are you awake?” I smelled puke on his breath and wondered at the hell he and Isabel had been living in for the past three days; it twisted my stomach. I tried to convince myself that he somehow deserved this for making me lose Sam, but I couldn’t.
It took a very long time for him to answer. “No. ”
“Can I do anything for you? To make you any more comfortable?”
His voice was very small. “My head’s killing me. ”
“I have some pain pills. Do you think you can keep them down?”
He made a vaguely affirmative noise, so I took the glass of water from beside the bed and helped him swallow a couple of capsules. He mumbled something that might’ve been “thank you. ” I waited fifteen minutes, until the meds started to kick in, and watched his body relax a little.
Somewhere, Sam had this. I imagined him lying somewhere, brain exploding with pain, fever ravaging, dying. It seemed like, if something happened to Sam, I ought to know it, in some way: feel a tiny prick of anguish the moment he died. On the bed, Jack made a small noise, an unintentional sound of pain, a little whimper in his fitful sleep. All I could think of was injecting Sam with the same blood. In my head, I kept seeing Isabel pushing it into his veins, a deadly cocktail.
“I’ll be right back,” I told Jack, even though I thought he was sleeping. I went out into the kitchen and found Olivia leaning on the island, folding up a piece of paper.
“How is he doing?” she asked.
I shook my head. “We have to take him to the hospital. Can you come?”
Olivia looked at me in a way that I couldn’t interpret. “I think I’m ready. ” She pushed the piece of folded paper toward me. “I need you to find a way to give that to my parents. ”
I started to open it and she shook her head. I raised an eyebrow. “What is this?”
“It’s the note telling them I’m running away and not to try to find me. They’ll still try, of course, but at least they won’t think I was kidnapped or something. ”
“You’re going to change. ” It wasn’t a question.
She nodded and made another weird little face. “It’s getting really hard not to. And—maybe it’s just because it’s so unpleasant, trying not to change—but I want to. I’m actually looking forward to it. I know that sounds backward. ”
It didn’t sound backward to me. I would’ve given anything to be in her place, to be with my wolves and with Sam. But I didn’t want to tell her that, so I just asked the obvious question. “Are you going to change here?”
Olivia gestured for me to follow her into the kitchen and together we stood by the windows to the backyard. “I want you to see something. Look. You have to wait a second. But look. ”
We stood at the window, looking out at the dead winter world, into the tangled underbrush of the woods. For a long moment I saw nothing but a small, colorless bird that fluttered from naked branch to naked branch. Then another slight movement caught my eye, lower to the ground, and I saw a big, dark wolf in the woods. His light, nearly colorless eyes were on the house.
“I don’t know how they know,” Olivia said, “but I feel like they’re waiting for me. ” I suddenly realized that the expression on her face was excitement. It made me feel oddly alone.
“You want to go now, don’t you?”
Olivia nodded. “I can’t stand waiting anymore. I can’t wait to let go. ”
I sighed and looked at her eyes, very green and bright. I had to memorize them now so that I could recognize them later. I thought I ought to say something to her, but I couldn’t think of what. “I’ll give your letter to your parents. Be careful. I’ll miss you, Olive. ”
I slid open the glass door; cold air blasted us.
She actually laughed as the wind ripped a shiver from her. She was a strange, light creature that I didn’t recognize. “See you in the spring, Grace. ”
And she ran out into the yard, stripping sweaters as she did, and before she got to the tree line, she was a light, light wolf, joyful and leaping. There was none of the pain of Jack’s or Sam’s change—it was as if she had been meant for it. Something in my stomach twisted at the sight of her. Sadness, or envy, or happiness.
It was just the three of us then, the three of us who didn’t change.
I started the car’s engine to warm it, but in the end it didn’t matter. Fifteen minutes later, Jack died. Now it was just the two of us.
CHAPTER SIXTY-THREE • GRACE
I saw Olivia after that, after I’d left her note on her parents’ car. She moved lightly in the twilight woods, her green eyes making her instantly identifiable. She was never alone; other wolves guided her, taught her, guarded her from the primitive dangers of the desolate winter wood.
I wanted to ask her if she’d seen him.
I think she wanted to
Isabel called me a few days before Christmas break and my planned trip with Rachel. I didn’t know why she called me instead of just coming over to my new car; I could see her right across the school parking lot, sitting in her SUV by herself.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m okay,” I replied.
“Liar. ” Isabel didn’t look at me. “You know he’s dead. ”
It was easier to admit on the phone, rather than face-to-face. “I know. ”
Across the frosty gray parking lot, Isabel snapped her phone shut. I heard her put her SUV in gear and then she drove it to where I stood by my car. There was a click as she unlocked the passenger-side door and a whirr as the window rolled down. “Get in. Let’s go somewhere. ”
We went downtown and bought coffee, and then, because there was a parking place in front, we went to the bookstore. Isabel looked at the storefront for a long time before getting out of the car. We stood on the icy sidewalk and stared at the display window. It was all Christmas stuff. Reindeer and gingerbread and It’s a Wonderful Life.
“Jack loved Christmas,” Isabel said. “I think it’s a stupid holiday. I’m not celebrating it anymore. ” She gestured to the store. “Do you want to go in? I haven’t been in here in weeks. ”
“I haven’t been here since—” I stopped. I didn’t want to say it. I wanted to go in, but I didn’t want to have to say it.
Isabel opened the door for me. “I know. ”
The bookstore was a different world in this gray, dead winter. The shelves, blue and slate, had taken on a different hue. The light was pure, pure white. Classical music played overhead, but the hum of the heater was the real soundtrack. I looked at the kid behind the counter—dark haired, lanky, bent over a book—and for a moment, a lump rose in my throat, too thick to swallow.
Isabel wrenched my arm, hard enough to hurt. “Let’s find books on getting fat. ”
We went to the cookbook section and sat on the floor. The carpet was cold. Isabel made a huge mess, pulling out a stack next to her and putting them back in the wrong order, and I lost myself in the neat letters of the titles on the spines, absently pulling the books out so that they were flush with one another.
“I want to learn how to get fat,” Isabel said. She handed me a book on pastries. “How does that look?”
I paged through it. “All the measurements are in metric. And no cups. You’d have to get a digital scale. ”
“Forget that. ” Isabel put it back in the wrong place. “Try this one. ”
This one was all on cakes. Beautiful chocolate layers bursting with raspberries, yellow sponges smothered with fluffy buttercream, cloying cheesecakes drizzled with strawberry nectar.
“You can’t take a piece of cake with you to school. ” I handed her a book on cookies and bars. “Try that. ”
“This is perfect,” Isabel accused, and set the book aside in a different pile. “Don’t you know how to shop? Being efficient isn’t a good thing. It doesn’t take enough time. I’m going to have to teach you the art of browsing. You’re clearly deficient. ”